Thursday, 28 May 2015

More Bank Holiday Fun (part 1)

I have been writing this blog for over 5 years now and it came to me recently that I’ve never really written much about Matrix Games. In fact close to nothing.

Matrix games, - those games with the structured argument process that enables the players to modify the rules – were a major part of my wargaming life a few years ago. I even wrote a booklet about them for the Society of Ancients. I also used to set up a large refight of a battle at CoW each year until interest essentially died out.

(Parenthesis: A note on matrix games for those unfamiliar with them.

Matrix games in the UK utilise a structured argument process supported by a set of cards with key words on them to modify the rules or the events in the game. The cards contain words like “Terrain”, “Betrayal”, “Missiles”, “Surprise”, “Equipment” and so on. Each argument consists of an Action/Outcome supported by three reasons. A “matrix” card is played to support the argument with a numerical value and an umpire assigns a probability to the outcome and dice are rolled. So, a typical argument might be:

Action: Alexander leads his Companions into contact with the opposing cavalry
Result: All Companion bases hit with a 4-6 instead of a 6
Reason 1: The Companions are the elite unit of the Macedonian army (play “Elite” card worth 2)
Reason 2: The Companions are further inspired by being lead personally by Alexander
Reason 3: The battlefield is flat and open, perfect terrain for hard charging cavalry.

This is adjudged a very strong argument, requiring a 5+ on 2d6, with +2 from the Elite card. If the player rolls a 1,1 he fails and it is clear that the Companions are having an off day.

End of parenthesis)

Every so often I used to organise a matrix gaming day in Trebian Towers. The last one was a bit of a disaster as I tried to do it in late April in my garage and everyone nearly got hypothermia. With the advent of Shedquarters it was clearly time to resurrect the practice.

Only I never got quite round to it until Mrs T poked me and said “When are you going to do one of those games you invite all those people to then?”

So, I sat down and worked some stuff out and e-mailed the normal crew. Out of a potential 9 or 10 players I ended up with four, - you have to have an even number for matrix games mostly or they don’t work quite so well if you’re doing a two sided refight.

The main set piece was to be a Matrix Game refight of Hydaspes (well, I’ve got the figures and done the research). It was to be preceded in the morning with one of my periodic modern African games set in the country of Zambola. This is a linked series of games featuring some of the same characters and an evolving political narrative. They started quite by chance at a CoW when Bob Cordery and Tony Hawkins introduced me to “Politics by other means”, a Chris Engle quick fire table top game. I had all my AK47 kit with me and we soon broke out into another game where the President Jog(a)-Jog(a) – the spelling has never been completely agreed – emerged as the central character.

Each game often has elements of the real world usually that I want to explore or is inspired by other events. This game’s central theme was inspired by Durritti’s plan during the SCW to hi-jack the Republican government’s gold reserves and run off with them on an armoured train. It didn’t quite work out like that, but it was fun anyway.

So, some more background. Zambola has been ruled since independence by the FAZED, which is an acronym from the Portuguese and means the Freedom Party of Zambola. Power has fragmented between three elements of the FAZED, - the youth wing(Y-FAZED), the ruling council (The RC) and a social democratic faction who want more party democracy (WO-FAZED).

FAZED is opposed by the ZIPPO/KLF alliance. ZIPPO is the Zambolan Independent People’s Organisation and draws its power from the Zambolan region. The KLF is the Kalima Liberation Force who fight for the independence of the Kalima region which is ethnically different to the rest of Zambola but was included within the boundaries in some Colonial carve up during the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century.

The player's scratch their collective heads over the briefings
To the south of Zambola is Swamibia which has had a difficult post-colonial history but is the regional powerhouse. It usually has the best trained troops and actual working equipment. The Swamibians might not feature in this game, but they’re always a threat lurking in the background.
Finally you often seen UN trucks and peace keepers scattered around.

At the start of the game Y-FAZED were in control of the City centre, including all of the main government buildings, - the Police HQ, the Central Reserve Bank and the Government Offices. As you can see I use a mixture of 2D templates and 3D props to create the game environment.

Y-FAZED's main task was to empty the bank and run off with everything. WD stalwart Tony Hawkins was in charge as the ex-president’s son (Luke Jogi-Jogi) and he set to the attendant looting with a will. Being short of wheeled vehicles they quickly commandeered the mobile broadcasting unit of the World's Press to help shift their ill-gotten gains

The other FAZED factions were heading into town in their vehicles, likewise variously aiming to seize control or at least some diamonds. Or Art. Or Gold. Or incriminating documents. Tom had control of the RC as the slightly unstable psychopath Field Marshal Condimenti and commander of the feared 1st Parachute brigade. Because Tom through his long wargaming career and for as long as I have known him has never had any proper wargaming toy soldiers I let him use his newly acquired AK47 police force, otherwise all the kit is mine.

WO-FAZED was led by MNG regular Chris A as Chairman Elliott Smith, and Phil took over the role of General “Fat Boy” Wheer-awi of ZIPPO in the absence of JB, their regular commander. JB has, alas, been very unwell  and we all hope he will have recovered in time for CoW.

Of course this is a wargame so you'd expect some fighting. But it is also a matrix game and the briefings all had a political element to them as well, and the players will often come up with some thing unexpected.

So Chris' WO-FAZED forces drove into town with improvised banners on their vehicles proclaiming a new era and peace and love and calling the towns' people to a rally in Independence Square.

The singing and dancing crowds milled about, preventing the Y-FAZED forces with their loot in the TV van getting to the train. In the confusion some of the crates of looted artefacts fell off the back of the truck, and were spirited away.

The game had been going for half an hour and no firing had broken out. Then one of the players (Phil, I think) argued that the Y-FAZED gunners outside the Government Offices panicked and opened fire. They did, and hit one of the WO-FAZED trucks.

Then everyone started firing. The RC had occupied the Police HQ, and were merrily firing at the fleeing previous occupants. It all got a bit excited and I stopped taking pictures in order to keep up with what was going on. Tony was scrambling madly to load his loot on to the train and then trying to get it to start up (Chris had argued that the train crew had run off to join the peace rally). The train had received a hit in the gun carriage and was starting to smoulder a bit.

In order to stop the train fleeing Field Marshal Condimenti sent his trusted lieutenant with the pride of the Zambolan armoured corps to block the train. Many shots were fired, but few, if any, hit the target as the metal monster got up steam.

Meanwhile the rest of Condimeti's men were making themselves at home in the police HQ, whilst the Field Marshal did a power (and loot) sharing deal with Elliott Smith of the WO.

More shots exchanged but the train starts to creep forwards.

Finally the train explodes as the fire in the gun carriage reaches the ammunition store. As this happens the RC & the WO retire, leaving the City to the Fat Boy and ZIPPO/KLF. You see whilst FAZED had been busy fighting each other the Fat Boy had taken control of the Government Offices and using the in-built TV studio had broadcast messages to ZIPPO/KLF forces to rise up as he announced his seizure of power.

So who won? Well, mostly the Fat Boy. However it was revealed in the final arguments round that Elliott Smith was a Swamibian spy who was tasked with keeping Zambola unstable so they could control the diamond fields of the south, whilst concealing his identity by laying his hands on incriminating documents held in the Government Offices. Condimenti kept his forces together and will surely be back for another shot at power. Young Luke, alas, managed to escape in a jeep with only one box of goodies, but if it's all diamonds it may be enough for a comfortable retirement.

All of the narrative of the game, pretty much, came from the players through the matrix mechanism. Everyone announced themselves happy with the proceedings and regretted that it had been so long since the last such outing (2006, if my records are correct...)

That concluded the morning's entertainment, so we all went off down the pub for lunch.

Part 2 will follow at a later date.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

More on my Andean Journey

As I said in my report on Campaign I picked up a contemporary account of some of the Peruvian/Chilean conflict. This was written by Rudolf de Lisle,a Royal Naval officer on HMS Shannon, who kept a diary and illustrated it with watercolours. It was re-printed by Pen & Sword books in 2008 and I got my copy from Dave Lanchester*.

The book has a historical introduction which is okay, and suffers from some idiosyncratic foot-noting, but otherwise it’s a gem. The chap who wrote it was a talented water-colourist. He’s clearly an amateur but he’s a military educated amateur so he knows what he is painting when he’s doing the military stuff. He served on land from time-to-time, which ultimately cost him his life at Abu Klea**.

Most of the military illustrations are of naval combat between the Peruvian and Chilean ironclads. He saw most if not all of the ships concerned, although I don’t know that he actually saw them in ship-to-ship action. If you want to model the ships the pictures are excellent.

There are some pictures of the land based forces, including of the fortifications built round Miraflores all of which are useful. Even more useful for me, already having the Caliver book on the uniforms, are the illustrations of the terrain, showing the colours, types of buildings and so on. One of the pictures at least is of a place I have visited that is now completely built over.

The diary text is of variable usage but all interesting as to what was important to a Naval office in the last quarter of the 19th century. Playing cricket against other ships and the locals features highly.
It’s a lovely book and thoroughly recommended to anyone with an interest in that period and not just in that part of the world. After all many of the ironclads that fought were built in Britain and most of ours never saw any action.

Don't take my word for this being an excellent book; Bob Cordery over at Wargames Miscellany got there first about 4 years ago, before I'd even heard of the conflict, let alone the book - Link

I have also managed to finish my first unit of Peruvian cavalry. These are the “Caballeros de Rimac”. They were so named because the unit was fitted out from the contents of a captured Chilean troopship called the Rimac.

Caballeros de Rimac
In practice it doesn’t matter what I call them. The Peruvian army mostly equipped its cavalry in a uniform manner so they can pass for anything. They also shared similarities in uniform colours with the Chileans, so keeping them apart will be a challenge (the Bolivians had a different uniform colour for each regiment, pretty much, so no issues there).

Colonel and Bugler
The figures are crisp and well detailed and proportioned. The horses are slightly smaller than usual which is correct. The horses in the campaign were noted for being small (and it must be admitted also sometimes completely absent). The detail on the firearms is very good too.

Two troopers
If I was to have a criticism it would be that the arm out to the side with a sword is a really awkward pose to get on a base without the sword sticking into a colleague. If I’d known I’d have asked not to have had any of those poses in my order. What I may do for some of them is substitute a lance for the sword to reduce the footprint of the figure.

My next batch on the painting desk includes some more infantry and some artillery. It’s slow progress, but I’ll get there.

Now, off to think about how I make some South American buildings…

* Whenever possible you should always get your books from Dave ‘cos he’s a nice bloke who looks after wargamers.
** He is clearly going to be a character in my next SvP game.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

More from the Russo-Turkish War

This post is a bit out of sequence as we played this game last Bank Holiday and I've been doing other things and evenings have been a bit tight for time (especially as it was after this game and the following attempt to do the Battle of Northampton that I had to completely re-write the latter rules).

A simple scenario was laid on. The Turks are on a ridge line, the Russian are going to attack them. We may have been here before. What can possibly go wrong?

I was the Russians again. We were trying the squares options I've written about before. You may not be able to see it in the pictures but my green mat now has very discrete brown dots painted on it to create squares.This enables us to be a bit more creative with unit formations. Neil Thomas (for we are using a variation on his 19th century rules) represents attack columns with skirmishers as just the column. For this game we show the skirmishers as two advanced elements with the remaining two as a column behind. Firing lines are three elements with a fourth command stand behind. Cavalry are unchanged.

As usual, being Russian, I started with a general advance everywhere I could. Because the Turks were on a hill I didn't mask my guns immediately.

My shooting was not as effective as it has been. Chris has discovered that in a change to doctrine the Russians no longer massed their guns, but spread them out in penny packets. I was thus unable to blast a hole in the centre of the Turkish line,

Since we last played Chris has painted some white caps on his Guard troops. They look nice.

I press forwards, into the hail of shot and shell. Being Russian I am largely not bothered by this and the increasing piles of corpses piling up.

By this time the photo evidence would indicate that Phil has arrived and has taken charge of the Turks. He is doing his best to get out of the way of my superior cavalry (well, dragoons actually) and slow me down. This is important as my cavalry are my best troops and my main hope is to turn the end of the line.

Soon the armies are almost at bayonet point all along the line.

I'm being well shredded at this point, but I include the photo mainly so you can see the brown dots on the mat.

I'm starting to run out of units. Again. And I can't crack the ridge position. I need some new tactics, but alas I'm Russian.

Game end, and everything Russian is either dead or fleeing. Curses.

I think we are getting there with the rules and the squares. A bit more scenery would help as rifle fire is quite nasty when you are in column. And it'll be good when Chris has done the standard bearer bases.

After that we tried to play my WotR rules on Phil's Northampton board. As I indicated earlier it was not good.

But that's the value of play testing before you go public with something.

Monday, 11 May 2015

On Campaign Again

Over the five or more years I’ve been doing this blog I have had occasion to remark on how much I like Campaign at Milton Keynes. It isn’t the biggest show but it wins because of its location, depending on what you think wargaming shows are for.

Mostly we know they are for taking part in competitions, off loading stuff at the Bring and Buy and then spending too much at the trade stands. Personally I like the idea that they are about explaining the hobby to the public and enticing in newcomers. Campaign wins on the latter score every time as it is free to come in and it takes place in what our American friends would call a shopping mall. Yup, - it is set slap bang in front of John Lewis and Next in the Central MK shopping area.

 I’ve not been for the last two years. Two years back it clashed with CoW, and last year it didn’t happen as Centre Management had decided it was inappropriate. This year it was back in its more regular slot. I went along with Phil to help him run the combined Society of Ancients/Northampton Battlefield society / Naseby Battlefield trust stand. Phil took along his lovely Northampton and Naseby 15mm battlefields and I wrote a quick game to be played on the Northampton one.

I had been struggling to make Rapid Raphia work for the battle and failed dismally last time I tried it out (an as yet unblogged game). I was on the point of giving up on the design when a series of ideas all clicked together and I ended up with a 20 minute game where the players can actually make decisions, is reasonably tense but also steps through most of the known events that occurred during the battle. It’s not necessarily a game you’d want to play more than once or twice, but it delivered what I wanted.

I ran the game three times over the weekend, - not very often, I’ll admit. Mostly this was because a lot of the passing traffic were people from Northampton on a shopping expedition who wanted to know more about their local heritage. I think I should have been bolder about getting people to sit down and play, but I didn’t want to scare people off. We need local support to preserve the battlefield and that needs to be explained clearly and carefully.

Of the three games we got some good results. The first game ended up as a Lancastrian win, despite Grey changing sides as an initiative to reach a negotiated settlement brought the battle to an end with no Lords being executed and a shared council being created. The second game was an out and out Yorkist win with Lord Grey changing sides at the critical point. The final game went the same way (and was the only game where I didn’t play the Lancastrians, - Will & Phil faced off) but both Fauconberg and Warwick were killed in the fighting.

Elsewhere the participation games were a bit hit and miss.

The centre piece was the Dambusters Game which won an award at Salute this year.

Love this,  - not just for the way it looks, but for the design which was clever but playable and didn’t just require the player to roll a d6 several times.

You even get a proper pilot's control and the wooden device for lining up with the flak towers we all remember from the film. 

Other notable games featured children’s toys, - a Playmobile Chariot Race looked smashing , 

and a Lego Star Wars battle was also featured.

The Staines club had an imaginative take on Agincourt in its 600th year, but alas they were only there one day and I didn’t realise it so I was too late to take pictures.

 Elsewhere there was a good mixture of historical and sci-fi / sci-fan games and board games. The club most local to me were running the classic Gladiator Rules from Paragon Wargames (originally advertised as the game you could put in a biscuit tin).

Shame they can't spell the club name.

The only thing I would say is that much as I am a fan of MDF buildings (and I am) they do need to be painted before you put them on a table. Otherwise they just look like MDF. At least stain the wood with something so roofs and walls are a different colour.

On the trade stand side of things I picked up a couple of books (including a set of watercolours painted during the 1879-81 period of The Pacific War). However it was generally a bit thin on the ground. I wanted to pick up some basic supplies and no one had what I wanted. I’m hoping this is only because of the break in continuity last year and that with the show back in the calendar things will be stronger next year.

Finally, my best memory of the weekend was the man in a wheel chair who said “I didn’t realise this was a thing you could do” and went off to join the local club and buy some soldiers to paint. Brilliant. I hope they make him welcome.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Making the most of working from home

I was able to work from home during the week so I was able set up a game for the evening. I went back to the Chinese "Taiping Era" rules as I'd done a bit of a re-write after the game with Tim in April, and the Taiping boys have only had one run out so far.

As the few of us who gathered hadn't met for a while there was more chatting than playing, and I didn't get as many pictures as a battle report needs I'm afraid.

I was the Taipings, and Chris was the Imperialists. He was defending a few villages. I was going to liberate them and teach them the ways of the one true path to Heaven. The stream is just a drainage ditch and passable to all as slow going except for artillery.

The first engagement happened over on my left, where some of our cavalry clashed in a non-conclusive manner. Well, I got a bit roughed up and driven back, actually. It was during this combat that I started to rethink exactly how melee should be resolved, and that wasn't entirely down to the fact I was losing.

Anyhow, the real combat was going to take place in the centre where my longhairs were sure to triumph over the corrupt shaven headed Imperial forces.

I also reckoned I could capture one village by storming it from the neighbouring paddy field.

In the centre I stormed across the bridge. Alas the support unit decided not to charge. Curses.

But I did overrun the village from the paddy field, forcing the Imps to retire.

Everywhere else we were hotly engaged, but with no clear outcomes. The mini-Mah Jong tiles record the unit's current status, by the way.

My cavalry suffered a little on the right flank from the fire from the village.

And consequently decide to run away.

But in the centre I have seized the far bank of the river. I mean stream. I mean drainage ditch. So I must be winning.

That was about it. When we finished, and the Mandarin hung up his hat, we were locked in combat with reasonable proportions of both sides heading for the base line.

"Taiping Era" continues to frustrate me with the way the mechanisms mesh together. What worked well when fighting Chinese v Europeans is working less well now. I still like the core process, but I had several other thoughts during the game about where changes need to be made.

So, not quite back to the drawing board, thankfully.